Red light camera controversy heats up in Clearwater, Brooksville

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Red light cameras remain a hot-button issue throughout Tampa Bay, as more data arrives that not only cast doubt on their effectiveness, but also suggests some intersections have become less safe after the devices were installed.

In 2011, Clearwater chose RLCs over road improvements for two dangerous intersections, reports Noah Pransky of WTSP.

It may not have been the right choice for drivers.

In a report presented to the City Council Tuesday by the Clearwater Police Department, there has been no noticeable drop in crashes at either intersection monitored by RLCs — Gulf-to-Bay Blvd. at Belcher Rd. and Chestnut St. at Ft. Harrison Ave.

Pransky notes that, in fact, crashes have increased since the installation of the cameras—jumping to 48 in 2012-2013 from 39 the year before. In the current fiscal year, crash numbers have dropped to 40 — including the death of 70-year-old crossing guard Douglas Carey, a former police officer. Carey died after being struck at the Belcher/Gulf-to-Bay intersection in May.

Changes in the way the state collects crash data could make an exact comparison impossible, said Clearwater Police Chief Dan Slaughter, adding that he saw no clear evidence in a rise in rear-end crashes.

Although accident numbers varied slightly at intersections with RLCs, reports found significant safety improvements at non-camera intersections. Total crashes citywide are down 18 percent since 2011-12, according to Clearwater Police.

In the report, it appears running red lights was not the cause of most crashes at dangerous intersections.

A year prior to installing RLCs at the two intersections, only three (8 percent) of 40 crashes were the result of drivers running red lights. Two years after RLC installation, the two intersections had nine accidents (4 percent) determined to be from running red lights.

The report also determined that longer yellow lights have a larger effect on red-light-running than RLCs.

After the state had mandated longer yellow lights at all Florida red light camera intersections, Slaughter agreed the change allowed drivers additional time to make safe decisions as lights change.

Meanwhile, a vote by Brooksville residents on the fate of red light cameras is facing stiff opposition by both the city’s elected officials and a new group that retained a team of powerful attorneys.

Incorporated on Aug. 25, “Keep Florida Roads Safe” filed two legal briefs in Hernando County to prevent a citizen referendum from appearing on the November ballot.

Pransky is reporting the pro-red light camera group has sued Pat and Shirley Miketinac, the Brooksville couple who brought the petition, and Supervisor of Elections Shirley Anderson. The motion seeks an injunction on the RLC issue.

Brooksville’s aggressive “rolling right” enforcement has angered enough citizen to gather signatures for a referendum, but the city council and city attorney indicate the language is too vague and too broad for the city charter.

The Miketinacs look to end the city’s red light camera contract with Sensys America, as well as ban future city councils from entering RLC contracts.

“Keep Florida Roads Safe” is supported by Carlton Fields Jorden Burt, the Tampa law firm that previously represented American Traffic Solutions (ATS), Florida’s primary red light camera provider.

According to the Miketinacs, “Keep Florida Roads Safe” is similar to other RLC industry advocacy groups springing up across the country over the past few years.

“It amazes us that this small city can garner this much attention, except that we could set a precedent in Florida,” the Miketinacs said in an email to WTSP/10 Investigates. “Just imagine if the citizens found out that they could have a say in their own government. That might set a ‘dangerous’ precedent indeed!”

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.